Book review: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice & Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

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In 18th century England, Henry “Monty” Montague, his best friend Percy, and his sister Felicity embark on their Grand Tour of the Continent, hoping to hit such destinations as France and Spain before depositing Felicity at finishing school and Percy at law school.  While Monty assumes that his Tour will be filled with drinks, parties, and romantic escapades, his dreams are dashed when his strict father hires a man to watch over the trio and make sure no shenanigans are had.  Despite the preparations, everything that could possibly go wrong does, and the trio finds themselves faced with everything from highwaymen to sinking islands.  Meanwhile, Monty is dealing with his ever-present feelings for Percy and the knowledge that a public relationship with another boy would mean the end of his inheritance and everything he’s ever known.

I’ve been eagerly anticipating this book since the very first early reviews started rolling in, but the reviews since then have been pretty mixed.  I’m calling this my “book you don’t want to admit you’re dying to read” because of the overall silly tone of it and the mixed reviews.

To start off, I want to say that I understand the criticisms of this book.  Even as I was reading, I thought to myself, “I bet this is a section a lot of people took issue with.”  Monty is not perfect.  He’s privileged, he’s flippant, and he feeds into bisexual stereotypes.  He runs around at all hours of the day and night with boys and girls and, initially, it seems like he’s never really faced any consequences for his actions.

Certainly, sometimes he doesn’t.  Monty truly is privileged in many ways.  His family’s wealth and position mean that he can be as rude as he likes to the nobility with nothing more than a slap on the wrist.  He can be caught hooking up with a woman and not be punished.  He has never gone hungry, never been without a comfortable bed, never wanted for anything.  He has never considered the degree of his privilege.  I can absolutely see how Monty might be a frustrating character.  The thing is, it’s completely realistic.  Have you ever tried to tell someone like Monty that they’re privileged?  Yeah, good luck with that.

The thing that makes Monty a good character is that he learns from his mistakes and grows as a person.  At the beginning of the book, he can’t even comprehend other people’s struggles.  He’s never considered that his biracial best friend couldn’t get away with half of what Monty takes for granted.  He realizes that his sister, like many other females, might not be content to sit around waiting on her future husband.  He also realizes that he’s had it rather easy for much of his life and that things could most certainly be worse.

That said, I didn’t really expect this book to tackle quite so many issues!  The writing style is so lighthearted that sometimes I didn’t even notice that the author threw in a lesson until I took the time to think about it.  Through Monty’s eyes, we see racism, homophobia, ableism, anxiety, alcohol abuse, child abuse, and sexism.  When I first started this book, I wondered where Monty had found such liberal, accepting parents in the 1700s.  When we learn that Monty’s parents are actually anything but accepting and his father is actually an awful human being, I just wanted to adopt this fictional kid who lived 300 years ago.  Or at least just give him a hug.

Another big criticism of this book that I’ve seen, aside from the whole privilege piece, is Monty’s treatment of Percy.  I will agree that he does not behave in an ideal manner toward his friend.  However, I completely understand where he’s coming from.  He’s been released into the wild, so to speak, away from his abusive father and the confines of his home country.  Yes, he’s sassy and promiscuous and fancies himself an adult, but he’s just eighteen years old.  He’s the age of a high school senior and in love with his same-sex best friend.  He both desperately wants Percy to know on the off chance that something could happen, but he also absolutely doesn’t want him to know for fear of the repercussions.  How does he handle his feelings?  He jokes around.  He makes light of everything.  When asked if he likes Percy like that, he basically says, “Yes, no, maybe, I’m not sure what you want me to say.”  I get it.  I’m straight and living in the 21st century and this stuff is hard for me.  Imagine being bisexual in the 18th century!

So, all in all, the book isn’t without its faults, but it is a whole lot of fun.  It’s well-written with loveable characters and I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed it so much.  At the end of 2018, Mackenzi Lee is releasing The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, and I cannot wait.

Final rating: ★★★★☆

#mmdreading: a book you don’t want to admit you’re dying to read

2 thoughts on “Book review: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice & Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

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